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Contentious reassessment battle draws near in Washington County

Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Washington County Commissioners (from left) Larry Maggi, Diana Irey Vaughan and Harlan Shober discuss economic development in Washington County at the Southpointe Golf Club in Canonsburg on Thursday, February 28, 2013.

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Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 8:52 p.m.

A state law that led to the court-ordered property reassessment that continues to rankle home-owners in Allegheny County took center stage when 200 business and civic leaders met on Thursday in Washington County.

“It's a bad law,” County Commissioner Larry Maggi said during a Washington County Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Southpointe Golf Club in Canonsburg. “We don't want to be the last county to go under this process. We want to fight to get it changed.”

The commissioners filed a Supreme Court challenge to a 2011 court ruling that ordered them to get started with a countywide reassessment. Two school districts — McGuffey and Washington — sued four years ago to force countywide real estate reassessments.

Common Pleas Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca ruled in 2011 that commissioners voluntarily entered into a court-approved 2008 agreement to reassess property and need to get started.

A hearing before Seneca regarding the lawsuit is scheduled for March 19. School district attorneys could ask her to hold commissioners in contempt for not starting the reassessment process.

Maggi joked he could be jailed over the matter.

Washington County last reassessed its properties in 1981.

Spending nearly $7 million in taxpayers' money to conduct an assessment that might be outdated in three to five years is not the best way to update property values, commissioners said.

“It doesn't make sense to follow this system you know in the long run doesn't work,” Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan said. “We are very competitive at keeping such a low tax rate.”

That low tax rate, along with an explosion in energy investments as well as the technology, commercial, industrial, hospitality and manufacturing sectors are powering the county's economic success, commissioners said.

“I think what keeps us different is our country charm we have down here,” Maggi said.

Add to that foresight, cooperation and hard work, said chamber President Jeff Kotula.

“The successes we experience in Washington County are not accidental,” he said.

Achievements for Washington County in the past year, officials said, include:

• 73 economic development projects brought in more than $346 million in capital investment, which will account for an additional 2,530 jobs.

• Ranked first in the region in both natural gas wells and drilling permits issued in 2012, making it fourth and second, respectively, in the state in those categories

• Gambling revenue provided $7.7 million for community development projects, which leveraged $25.8 million in public and private funding.

• Gas drilling impact fees generated $4.7 million for the county, which is using the money to repair bridges, expand the county's information technology and bolster public safety, Commissioner Harlan Shober said.

“This windfall from the gas industry is going toward things for future investments,” Shober said, “not to cover operational costs for today.”

Tourism supported 5,740 jobs in 2012, generating more than $72 million in federal and state taxes, Vaughan said.

Much of that comes from the 5-year-old Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane, which attracted more than 4 million visitors, and the Tanger Outlets and the PGA/ Tour's Mylan Classic golf tournament.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or

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